NASCAR Draft Kit: What's New for 2015

NASCAR Draft Kit: What's New for 2015

This article is part of our NASCAR Draft Kit series.

Before we can fill out our cheat sheets or prepare our draft strategies for the upcoming 2015 NASCAR season, there are many changes that we need to take into account in order to be prepared for any fantasy racing league. We're going to take an in-depth look at some of these changes that we'll see and some that aren't so apparent when the engines fire up at Daytona in February.

Driver Changes

Thanks to the usual silly season movement and free agent driver signings, we have several drivers who have moved to new teams in 2015. There are a handful of teams that are shutting down and some that are starting new. There are a few teams that have merged or contracted in order to stay competitive. Also, a handful of driver/team swaps have taken place; among the most notable are the Carl Edwards and Trevor Bayne moves.

DriverNew TeamOld Team
Trevor BayneNo. 6 Roush Fenway RacingNo. 21 Wood Brothers Racing
Sam Hornish Jr.No. 9 Richard Petty MotorsportsNo. 54 Xfinity Series
Carl EdwardsNo. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing No. 99 Roush Fenway Racing
Ryan BlaneyNo. 21 Wood Brothers Racing No. 29 Truck Series
Chase ElliottNo. 25 Hendrick Motorsports (part-time)No. 9 Xfinity Series
TBA No. 30 The Motorsports GroupNA
Bobby Labonte No. 32 GoFAS Racing (part-time)Multiple Teams
Ty DillonNo. 33 Circle Sport Racing (part-time)No. 3 Xfinity Series
TBA No. 66 Premium MotorsportsNA
JJ Yeley/Travis Kvapil? No. 83
Before we can fill out our cheat sheets or prepare our draft strategies for the upcoming 2015 NASCAR season, there are many changes that we need to take into account in order to be prepared for any fantasy racing league. We're going to take an in-depth look at some of these changes that we'll see and some that aren't so apparent when the engines fire up at Daytona in February.

Driver Changes

Thanks to the usual silly season movement and free agent driver signings, we have several drivers who have moved to new teams in 2015. There are a handful of teams that are shutting down and some that are starting new. There are a few teams that have merged or contracted in order to stay competitive. Also, a handful of driver/team swaps have taken place; among the most notable are the Carl Edwards and Trevor Bayne moves.

DriverNew TeamOld Team
Trevor BayneNo. 6 Roush Fenway RacingNo. 21 Wood Brothers Racing
Sam Hornish Jr.No. 9 Richard Petty MotorsportsNo. 54 Xfinity Series
Carl EdwardsNo. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing No. 99 Roush Fenway Racing
Ryan BlaneyNo. 21 Wood Brothers Racing No. 29 Truck Series
Chase ElliottNo. 25 Hendrick Motorsports (part-time)No. 9 Xfinity Series
TBA No. 30 The Motorsports GroupNA
Bobby Labonte No. 32 GoFAS Racing (part-time)Multiple Teams
Ty DillonNo. 33 Circle Sport Racing (part-time)No. 3 Xfinity Series
TBA No. 66 Premium MotorsportsNA
JJ Yeley/Travis Kvapil? No. 83 BK Racing NA

2015 Rules Package

Nearly 60 enhancements/updates were made to the NASCAR national series rules packages for 2015 in the following areas:

New Rules, with one or more of the following goals in mind: enriched competition, improved safety, reduced cost, enhanced product relevance and environmental (green) improvements.

The following are among the significant updates to the competition package:

Testing

All team-initiated private testing is banned
Teams will be invited to participate in NASCAR/Goodyear tests
NASCAR will not conduct a test at Daytona International Speedway prior to the Daytona 500

Rules

Reduction of horsepower to 725 via tapered spacer
Roller valve lifters to replace flat valve lifter
Lower rear differential gear ratios targeting 9,000 RPM
Rear spoiler adjustment to 6 inches high (2014 height: 8 inches)
Optional driver adjustable track bar
38-inch wide radiator pan
Minimum vehicle weight drops 50 pounds via ballast reduction (2014 weight: 3,300 w/o driver)
Updated qualifying formats for all tracks
Rain tires on road courses, similar to rules in place for the NASCAR Xifinity Series and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series; mandatory wipers, defogger and rear flashing rain light installed for the event weekend

New Officiating Processes

Data Log and Capture System for pre-race inspections
Automated pit road officiating at race events

Newly Approved Parts

Revised brake calipers

Updated Business Processes

Electronic rule book
New parts approval process

Qualifying Format

Nothing has been decided yet, but NASCAR is looking at making qualifying more enhanced for the fans and the drivers. The proposed changes would shorten the qualifying sessions and make them friendlier to the TV viewer and fans at the track.

The formats will be shortened at all types of tracks, mostly to cut the length of time in the first segment. Teams currently are sitting on pit road trying to time when to run a hot lap, and NASCAR will try to eliminate the waiting. The first segment on short tracks and intermediate tracks will be 15 minutes, followed by a break, then 10 minutes, a break and a final five-minute session. At superspeedways, the field will be divided into two groups for the first five-minute session, followed by two more five-minute sessions. Road course qualifying will consist of one 25-minute session, followed by a 10-minute session. The Daytona 500 front row qualifying will be done in groups, but the length of the breaks is still being tweaked as NASCAR needs to fill a three-hour television window.

At times last season the new knockout qualifying format was either highly dangerous or highly boring. Cars would flock to the track in big packs at the last minute for some hair-raising action on the super speedways, or they would sit on pit road for endless minutes waiting to make that one final push for a hot lap run. In either instance, NASCAR recognizes that this is not only dangerous but also not good television. In order to increase on-track safety and to make the qualifying a much more television-friendly event, we expect the sanctioning body to make some tweaks to the rules at some point for the upcoming season.

Teams Regulating Lug Nuts

One new rule that stands out as a game changer is NASCAR letting teams regulate lug nuts during pit stops. NASCAR won't penalize or monitor missed lug nuts or lug nuts that get knocked off during a stop. The new rule (or lack of rule) could be a huge gain for teams that want to gamble. Everyone knows that it doesn't take all five nuts tight to keep a tire on. The tricky part is how many nuts does it take? There are stories floating around pit road of teams that have come into victory lane with one, two and three nuts on a wheel, and everyone is amazed. Every situation is different and every situation could have a different outcome, but hitting only three or four nuts per side could speed up a stop and if teams are willing to gamble on that then it could pay off. In the past, teams had to make sure all five nuts were on the studs and if an official saw a nut get knocked off they would hold the car until the nut was put back on. Changers were very aware of the rules and hit nuts with a speed they could control. Jack men were also aware of the rule and MOST would wait on the left side for all five to get hit. Now, all that changes.

Impact: The new rule will alleviate something that NASCAR officials have policed to this point on pit road while at the same time introduces a new wrinkle into pit strategy. The teams that want to gamble could reap big rewards on the race track for time saved on pit road, or have disastrous setbacks if tires are not securely fastened to the wheel hub. Either way, this should make for some interesting racing and fan viewing in 2015. We wouldn't be surprised if this leads to some controversy at some point during the season, and the sanctioning body has to scrap or overhaul this to a degree.

Changes to the Season-Opening Sprint Unlimited

NASCAR has announced all 16 Chase drivers will be eligible to compete in the 2015 Sprint Unlimited at Daytona International Speedway. The 75-lap, non-points race will once again kick off the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series racing season Saturday, Feb. 14, and will feature an expanded field of drivers based on new eligibility requirements. A minimum of 25 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers are eligible to participate in the Sprint Unlimited at DIS. In addition to the 2014 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup participants, the field also will include 2014 Coors Light Pole Award winners, as well as former Sprint Unlimited race winners and Daytona 500 pole winners who competed in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series full time in 2014. Any remaining spots will be filled by drivers highest in 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver championship points that are not already eligible.

Impact: By expanding the field for this season-opening exhibition, NASCAR hopes to not only boost TV ratings but also increase the competition in this event. Several drivers who would not have qualified for the Sprint Unlimited last year will be in the field in 2015. As a point of comparison, last year's Unlimited featured just 18 teams. The upcoming Unlimited is tabbed for a field of at least 25. That's an increase of 39 percent. The expansive Daytona oval shouldn't look nearly as empty with the expanded field of drivers.

Schedule Changes

For the 14th consecutive year, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule will consist of 36 points races as well as two additional weekends featuring non-points events. The Sprint Unlimited (Feb. 14) and two Daytona 500 qualifying races (both on Feb. 19) will take place before the season officially starts. The NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway will take place May 16, broadcast on Fox Sports 1.

Key date changes featuring Darlington Raceway, Bristol Motor Speedway and Daytona International Speedway, some of NASCAR's most tradition-laden tracks, highlight the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule. Following the 57th running of the Daytona 500 Feb. 22 on Fox, Atlanta Motor Speedway will host the season's second race weekend (March 1), while Darlington returns to its traditional Labor Day weekend date (Sept. 6). The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series returns to Atlanta for the first time since 2012 as part of a unique doubleheader on Feb. 28 with the NASCAR Nationwide Series. Additionally, Daytona's always-anticipated July race weekend takes on a different look as the Sunday, July 5, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race marks the return of broadcast partner NBC.

A big "west-coast swing" during the schedule's early stages spotlights markets where NASCAR's fan base is growing and sponsor opportunities are on the rise. The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and NASCAR Nationwide Series run on three consecutive weekends, at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on March 7-8, Phoenix International Raceway on March 14-15 and Auto Club Speedway on March 21-22. Bristol's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series spring date moves deeper into the calendar from mid-March to April 19. Dates for the spring races at Phoenix and Texas Motor Speedway (April 11) step back one week from their 2014 schedule slots.

Impact: Other than the tweaks to the Atlanta, Bristol and Darlington dates, NASCAR has left most of the schedule alone. The Chase lineup of tracks remains the same, as does their order. The season kicks off at the same time with Speedweeks and the Daytona 500 weekend. The Bristol spring date has been notorious for bad weather, so NASCAR is trying to alleviate that a bit by moving out some in the schedule. For several years we've raced at Atlanta in the mid-summer, so it will be an interesting change to see the Sprint Cup Series boys competing at the Georgia oval in early March. As for Darlington, it has been saddled with Mother's Day weekend for a number of seasons, so it will be a good change to put that date out further in September, where attendance could be boosted.

Series Sponsorship

Citing a need to focus more directly on its core business priorities, Sprint announced it has informed NASCAR it will not extend the title sponsorship of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series after the current agreement expires at the end of the 2016 season. Since the partnership began in 2004, Sprint has worked closely with NASCAR to bring many fan-friendly innovations to life, including the introduction of the FanView next generation scanner (2005), the creation of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Mobile wireless application (2008) and the debut of Miss Sprint Cup (2007), an ambassador program that now has more than 1.5 million social media followers. The constant evolution of the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race pre-race show and the improvements to the Sprint Vision trackside programming also highlight Sprint's portfolio of fan enhancements.

This is a change you won't see in the 2015 season, but will be coming after the 2016 campaign. Sprint will conclude its sponsorship of NASCAR's top division and shift focus to other marketing campaigns. NASCAR will now begin a search for a new primary sponsor of the Cup Series and make that a priority in the upcoming year. The change is expected to have little impact on the series or how NASCAR operates.

NASCAR and Comcast announced a historic agreement that will make Comcast's Xifinity brand the title sponsor of what is now known as the NASCAR Nationwide Series through 2024. The 10-year term matches the longest single agreement around title sponsorship of any NASCAR national series in history and is the longest entitlement sponsorship agreement in this series' history. Beginning this year, the property will be known as the NASCAR Xifinity Series. Xifinity will become only the third title sponsor in series history following Anheuser-Busch (26 years) and Nationwide Insurance (seven years). The agreement also makes Xifinity an Official NASCAR Partner in the multichannel video programming distributor (MVPD) and broadband ISP categories.

Impact: Say goodbye to the Nationwide Series and say hello to the Xfinity Series. The contract makes the Xifinity brand a recognizable part of the NASCAR world.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Taylor
Taylor is RotoWire's senior NASCAR writer. A nine-time FSWA finalist, Taylor was named the Racing Writer of the Year in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2016 and 2017. He is also a military historian, focused specifically on World War II and the U.S. Navy's efforts in the Pacific.
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